May 27, 2020
Contact: Tom Lalley

Twenty-Four State Attorneys General Sue Trump Administration Over Weakened Vehicle Efficiency and Emissions Standards

Administration admits that weakened standards will increase emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, harm public health and cost thousands of American jobs.

Washington, D.C. —  California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today led a coalition of 24 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) challenging the agencies’ final rule released on March 31 that weakens fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger vehicles and light trucks. Over the next few decades, the weakened standards are expected to lead to an additional 1.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, increase drivers’ fuel costs by $244 billion, and cause more than 18,000 premature deaths and 250,000 asthma attacks. The new rule mandates just a 1.5% annual improvement in fuel efficiency — well below the 5 percent annual improvement required under the previous standards, and below the 2 percent annual improvement car makers typically achieve on their own. In 2017, transportation overtook power generation as the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation is also a leading source of the air pollution that harms human health.
“The underpinnings for the Trump Administration’s so-called ‘SAFE’ rule are crumbling before the rule even hits the road. The Administration claims their new rule will save money and lives, but previously undisclosed internal documents reveal how far from the truth that is,” said AG Becerra. “Just read the text of the rule and you will discover that it is a job-killer and public health hazard. It will increase costs to consumers and allow the emission of dangerous pollutants that directly threaten the health of our families. President Trump should have listened to his own scientists. America’s Clean Car Standards were doing the job. We’re going to court to defend them.”
“The administration’s dubiously named ‘SAFE Vehicles’ rule is more than a thousand pages of bad math, bad logic and bad policy. State AGs will make sure the courts and the American people see every ugly twist and turn,” said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “The Clean Car Standards that the Trump administration scrapped were one of the nation’s key tools in the fight against climate change. In stark contrast, the administration’s new standards are a slap in the face to the automakers, federal and state regulators, scientists and public health experts whose years-long collaboration was trashed, and to the American public that will suffer the consequences of climate change and unhealthy air.”
“The Trump administration touted the SAFE Vehicles Rule as giving the American people better access to safer, more affordable vehicles that are cleaner for the environment. But it does none of these things. Instead, this rule sabotages investment in technology that is better for the environment and slashes incentives to increase fuel efficiency which is better for drivers,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “In joining these other states to fight the current administration’s rollback of the national Clean Car Standards, I’m keeping my pledge to fight against actions that jeopardize the progress we’ve made in fighting against climate change. This is a fight the American people can’t afford to lose.”
“The administration’s illegal rollback rejects sound science, ignores environmental harms caused by carbon pollution, and will cost consumers more at the pump. Colorado is joining this lawsuit challenging the administration’s illegal action in order to defend our state’s fuel emission standards that are stronger than the national standards,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. “By making more zero-emission vehicles available to Coloradans, we can address climate change and protect our air quality.”
“Clean Car Standards have been proven to reduce emissions, saving money and saving lives,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “Yet again, the Trump administration is proposing a rule that would reverse this progress and cause irreparable damage to our environment from climate change. I will continue to fight to ensure the Trump administration does not get away with undermining our progress in protecting clean water and air and in our battle against climate change.”
“As climate change grips our world, we should be strengthening emissions standards, not rolling them back,” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “Despite our current public health crisis, the Trump Administration is going full steam ahead on its anti-environmental agenda. I won’t allow this administration to play politics with the air we breathe.”
“No one wants dirty and inefficient vehicles — not consumers, and not automakers. The Trump Administration has ignored basic federal environmental laws and administrative procedures in a knee-jerk rush to roll back regulations.” said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. “This rule will have disastrous implications for our climate for decades to come. Our coalition will leave no legal stone unturned to protect our clean air.”
“This is yet another example of the federal government protecting big oil and big polluters over the wishes of states like Oregon that prioritize protecting our environment,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. “By eliminating the Clean Car Standards, the federal government is turning back years of hard work meant to reduce carbon emissions and save families money. Oregonians are proud of our legacy of fighting for our environment and, along with many other states, for the well-being of our planet.”
“Rolling back the Clean Car Standards will endanger the health of countless Americans.  It will pollute our air and water, accelerate climate change and be costly for consumers,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “It’s heedless and illegal.  It’s a gift to the fossil fuel industry at great expense to the American people.”
“The Trump administration’s new rule undoes hard-earned progress to protect our health, environment and economy. As Attorney General, I will fight to uphold the law and safeguard the air we breathe and the water we drink,” said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.
“There is absolutely no scientific, economic, or environmental reason to rollback clean car standards. This move is simply a giveaway to the fossil fuel industry. For the sake of our health and our planet, we are suing,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
“Now more than ever, the residents of New Jersey deserve to breathe clean air. That’s part of the reason it’s so troubling the federal government wants to roll back auto emissions standards,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “Today, we’re joining 22 AGs to fight this effort in court.”
“The Trump administration’s failure to take this critical issue seriously makes it all the more important that states retain the authority to take action to fight climate change.” said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul. “The federal government shouldn’t be trying to stop states from protecting clean air.”
“The bogus SAFE rule is against Vermont’s tradition of protecting our environment. It will increase fossil fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution. We’re fighting back” said Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan.
In addition to harming human health and exacerbating climate change, the Trump administration’s vehicle standards would penalize consumers and harm the overall economy. Even the agencies’ rosiest estimate shows that the lower fuel efficiency standards will force consumers to spend more on gasoline than they would save from lower vehicle prices that the administration claims would result from the weakened standards. The administration’s own analysis of the rule also found that it would cost approximately 60,000 jobs; an independent analysis found that the actual figure may be closer to 200,000.
Newly released records show that numerous officials within the administration raised alarms over parts of the rule in the weeks and days leading up to its release. In February, EPA staff noted that the standards “will result in increased climate impacts and air pollution compared to the existing standards.” Emails released earlier this month reveal that an official in the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) warned in March that the agencies’ legal justification for the final rule “is lacking in actual justification” and “reads very cursory,” and added that the rule “does not do enough to explain why” the 1.5% annual efficiency improvement mandated by the rule “is the right stringency level as a matter of fact or why it is proper as a matter of law.”
Federal law mandates that the Transportation Department set “maximum feasible” fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks, and that the EPA protect the public from air pollution. In 2012, the Obama administration finalized a rule that gradually raised fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by model year 2025 — nearly double the average at the time. The regulations were the result of a joint rulemaking among the EPA, NHTSA and the California Air Resources Board, in cooperation with the auto industry. The standards were projected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by six billion metric tons, prevent up to 2,000 premature deaths and 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments, and reduce asthma symptoms for 24 million Americans, including 6.3 million children.
President Trump ordered a review of the Obama administration’s standards in March 2017, shortly after taking office. In August 2018, the EPA and NHTSA released a notice of proposed rulemaking to freeze fuel efficiency standards for model years 2021-2026 at the model year 2020 level. In 2019, the EPA and NHTSA published a separate final rule withdrawing California’s waiver under the Clean Air Act to set its own vehicle emissions standards — an action without precedent in the law’s decades-long history. The decision also impacted the 13 other states — home to roughly one-third of the U.S. population — that have adopted California’s standards as permitted under Section 177 of the Clean Air Act.
State attorneys general have vigorously opposed the administration’s attempts to roll back national vehicle emission standards. A coalition of 21 AGs filed comments in October 2018 urging the EPA to withdraw its proposal to freeze standards for model years 2021-2026, warning that it violates the agencies’ responsibilities under the Clean Air Act to protect the public from air pollution. A separate coalition of 24 AGs filed a lawsuit in September 2019 challenging the administration’s revocation of California’s Clean Air Act waiver.
The attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C., the California Air Resources Board, the Cities of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Denver, and the Counties of San Francisco and Denver joined AG Becerra in filing today’s lawsuit.



About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
For more information, visit our website